Thursday, December 3, 2009

Randall Wong, MD: What social media means to me

I like social media. I like the Internet. I love Web 2.0. I love being a physician.... Still with me?

For several reasons, I started a blog last spring. It is a little different than most blogs in that it is written by a physician, it provides a credible source of information about diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, it does not express any of my opinions, and I try not to offer medical advice. My blog is basically a compilation of what I have been telling my retina patients for the past 17 years.

But medical blogging has a bad rap.
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To me, medical blogging offers opinions regarding medical issues, such as healthcare and politics. It does not necessarily have to be authored by a physician. Check out medical bloggers such as kevinmd, dr. rob and dr. val. These are a few of the physician pioneers that have entered the blogosphere. They commonly write and inform about health policy, politics, etc., and there is usually no medical advice.

Can’t medical blogging also mean blogging by physicians or other healthcare professionals writing about health information? (The answer is “yes.”)

I believe that physicians, using our authority, have the ability, and responsibility, to create credible sources of health information on the Internet. Who else can combat the plethora of misinformation? Hence, the reason for my blog, which is written solely for educating both patients and their (non-retina) doctors about eye disease. Not my opinion about eye disease, but a source of useful, credible information.

There are practical reasons for us to engage over the Internet even if you don’t share my zest. The Internet is where our patients turn for information — right or wrong. Shouldn’t we help them find the right stuff?

“An educated consumer is our best customer,” said Sy Syms many years ago. I agree with him. Imagine if your patients were truly better informed and educated about their health. Think of the time you could spend with them talking specifically — and only — about the stuff that is relative to their disease. Right now, I spend a lot of effort “unteaching” patients because of the misinformation they have received. What is even harder is “unteaching” the information they learned from their doctor.

Just as a professor or teacher learns more by teaching, it would force you to be a better, more knowledgeable doctor. An educated patient has a more meaningful visit. They will learn more, listen better, and probably have fewer compliance issues. Why? Knowledge and understanding gained by a source other than the doctor.

Lastly, wouldn’t the patient just love the visit? The visit would have gone as planned as it met expectations. The patient had an inkling of what was to be expected. For instance, “I have a retinal detachment, and, as expected, Dr. Wong told me this, this, and this….”

More importantly, wouldn’t this also fortify the relationship between the referring doc and his or her patient? “Dr. Smith really cares for me. He sent me to this fantastic……” Well, you get the idea.

Social media is more than “I just walked the dog.” Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are places where people share information about… well, everything. This is the power of social media. It is e-mail on speed. It is about proactively finding people of shared interests and following how they “roll.” It allows people to find others to share information — albeit, sometimes simply about walking the pooch. Regardless, social media makes us aware, in real time, what’s going on with others of shared interests and talents. It allows us to be content producers instead of just content consumers (wow!).

My goal is to promote the use of the Internet, Web 2.0, and social media to physicians. I believe we should embrace the use of the Internet and social media. There are implications to improving the quality of the healthcare we deliver, to growing and improving the function of your practice, and imminently allowing us, as physicians, to improve healthcare overall.

Randall Wong, MD, is a retinal specialist in private practice in Fairfax, Va. Wong has a strong interest in Web 2.0, the Internet, and social media, and will write regularly about how social media can help build your practice and even improve healthcare.

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